Written by Anglicare NSW South, NSW West & ACT CEO, Jeremy Halcrow.
Compassion is one of Anglicare’s four core values. The full text of this value reads: “In the spirit of loving service we offer care and understanding to those in need”.
There is no doubt that a distinctive of Jesus Christ’s ministry was the compassion he had for the people he met, particularly those who were suffering.
It is important to remember that compassion literally means co-suffering. True compassion means “walking alongside in suffering”. Being sensitive and feeling things deeply is not compassion. Rather compassion is “feeling as another”; the deep motivating power of empathy.
What drives true compassion is a deep sense of justice.
This idea is picked up in Anglicare’s identity statement which says that “As part of the Anglican Church’s broader mission, we are to follow Jesus’ example to respond to human need by offering loving service and seeking to address injustices in society.”
In the bible, Micah ponders what God requires from us. His thought experiment runs through the most extraordinary list of ways people might think they could please God, including giving up their most prized possessions and even sacrificing their child.
Micah concludes that what God really requires of us is this: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”
This is far more simple and reasonable than the sorts of sacrifices we might dream up. Yet on a deeper level what God is requiring from us here is actually very challenging.
What does “acting justly” mean in the context of our professional lives as teachers or youth workers or support staff or managers?
On the everyday level of personal interactions – whether in a school classroom, a workplace or retirement village – justice means not playing favourites. It certainly means not favouritising those who have wealth or power over those who do not.
Jesus, himself, is explicit in warning that wealth can make us blind to the sufferings of others.
As a Statutory Care Agency, we currently have delegated parental responsibilities for over 400 children and young people who have entered the Care and Protection system. As part of my responsibilities I am aiming to have regular dinners with the 50 or so young people who are experiencing the greatest struggles and live in our therapeutic residential units. These young people are provided a place to heal from the trauma of the most extreme abuse situations you could imagine, with the hope they will be able sustain a foster care placement in the future. Their experience of trauma impacts on their trust in adults and therefore their ability to maintain a high school education. Mainstream schools often fail them. Due to their disrupted educations and lack of family support, half of the 3000 young people who exit Care and Protection across Australia each year will be unemployed, in jail or pregnant within a year of leaving. One third will be homeless before their 19th birthday.
Helping these young people complete school and go on to tertiary study or training is the solution. Through a program called TEACHaR, Anglicare Victoria is aiming to provide young people in residential care with specialised one-on-one school-based mentoring. As a result, they have seen the number rated average or above in literacy jump from 17 per cent to 56 per cent. While the number who say they are frequently “happy at school” rise to almost 95 per cent from about a third. As one of the young people who participated in the program said: “I get more done working one-on-one with my teacher; I get more things right and I don’t get embarrassed in class anymore.”
My hope is that we will move in this direction and set clearer educational targets for the young people in our care.
Aiming to see three quarters of our young people in Out of Home Care completing Year 12 should not be unrealistic. Justice demands it.
At one of the dinners I attended at a residential unit, I asked a highly intelligent and artistically talented young woman if there was anything more Anglicare could do to support her to complete Year 12? She is Aboriginal and was removed from her home in the far west of NSW. She asked if Anglicare could pay for her to attend an Anglican School which she thought would offer better discipline and pastoral care so she could complete her HSC. My heart broke. I had to say no. The reason is equity. Anglicare does not have a spare $6 million to provide all 400 of the children we support with a private school education.
If we are going to change our world for the better, it is a sense of justice that we need, not merely compassion.
Compassion extends the hand of care to those who have fallen. Justice battles the systems that undermine our compassionate acts of relief.
Justice goes beyond just meeting a need; it seeks to encourage and empower those that are marginalised so they too can flourish, and reach their full human potential.
Compassion drives us to pull people from flooded waters. But justice motivates us to go upstream and see if we can prevent the floods in the first place.
Given the ethnic and religious diversity of 21st century Australia, what is the relevance of Christianity to our aspirations to make the world a better place? In my view, the Christian faith will remain relevant to our aspirations if it motivates and drives us to pursue a more just and compassionate Australia.
Micah is calling us: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.